Take a healthy stride

Women don't realise that working out regularly makes a big difference not just to their longevity but, more importantly, to their quality of life.

November 27, 2010 03:37 pm | Updated November 28, 2010 06:28 pm IST

You need to do it: Weight training prevents osteoporosis and depletion of muscle. Photo: K.R. Deepak

You need to do it: Weight training prevents osteoporosis and depletion of muscle. Photo: K.R. Deepak

Being a gynaecologist, I'm partial to women. Their contribution to society in general and their family in particular is unparalleled. Women, I believe, need to pay more heed to their health and wellness. Neglecting your own fitness and state of health is sure to lead to unnecessary ramifications. Steady weight gain over the years is only one of the problems.

As we age we gain 1 lb of fat and lose 1/2 lb of muscle for every year after the age of 35 (earlier if you are completely sedentary). Extrapolate these numbers and you will have a vague idea of the “quality of content” (amount of fat versus the amount of muscle) of your body by the age of 60. Understanding what losing muscle and gaining fat can do to your body in terms of functionality, not just appearance may help you sit up and pay attention.

Consequences of excess weight

The function of muscles is locomotion or movement. Daily tasks cannot be performed if muscle mass and strength deteriorate. Accumulation of fat is not just ungainly and inconvenient but hinders simple tasks and the added weight places a strain on the joints and spine, as they are not supported by strong muscle structure. Excess weight also stresses the heart and lungs, which is why over-weight, unfit individuals find themselves quite breathless while climbing the stairs or performing any action, which requires the heart and lungs to work harder.

Unable to cope with the excess weight and getting no help from the poorly conditioned muscles, the heart beats rapidly, sometimes even irregularly. The breathlessness is a result of the respiratory system trying to cope with the excess demand for oxygen by the working muscles. Poor oxygenation of the muscles leads to early fatigue and cramping as they try to work without adequate nutrition, which, in this case is oxygen.

Having painted this rather dismal picture of an unfit individual's state of affairs, when one is negligent of one's fitness, I go on to state that this is not an irreparable situation. There is hope of restoration, in even the most extreme cases. The extraordinary ability of the human body to rehabilitate is what makes it so special. The earlier one starts the rectification process however, the easier it will be and the better the results.

But it is never too late to start a fitness programme. Studies have shown that even starting to train with weights to improve strength and introducing some amount of cardiovascular exercise even as late as 90 years of age has beneficial spin offs for the individual.

Muscles respond to external stress or ‘resistance' as it is called (as in weight training) provided the stress is applied in the right direction and is of the right intensity. This is important to emphasise as otherwise one might as well advise a 70-year-old woman to start training by shifting the furniture in her house.

Ideally all women need to train with weights in order to improve strength and increase muscle mass. This becomes even more important after the age of 30 when muscle mass starts to deplete and the woman's bones have a tendency towards osteoporosis. Weight training prevents both osteoporosis and the depletion of muscle.

When one discusses weight training with women, one is often met with mild horror, if not outright shock and indignation. Truth is, it need not be as frightening as it sounds. One can start slow, with lighter weights and then grow to challenge one's muscles.

As one builds in strength and confidence, one begins to enjoy the sensation of sheer power that accompanies physical strength. Simple acts of climbing stairs, squatting, rising from sitting on the floor, or even just sitting on the floor, get easier. This sense of accomplishment incites one to stay on course and progress to levels one never thought oneself capable of.

Three main aspects

Thomas Alva Edison once said, “If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” This is true of our fitness levels too. As long as one is not afraid of failure and gets the right professional guidance, one can always look at progress in the three main aspects of fitness - stamina, strength and flexibility, at any age. Weight loss or even maintenance of one's weight is a by-product of regular exercise, not the sole benefit.

Women tend to neglect their fitness/wellness. There is always something else more important than their own health that seems to require their attention. Family, career, social work and so on. Sometimes, I suspect, this becomes an easy defence strategy to remain where they are, overweight with various degenerative illnesses that plague them. It is even taken as acceptable that one develops diabetes, hypertension and all the ‘lifestyle diseases' that perhaps their own mother suffered from. With age, decreased mobility, activity, strength and stamina, and increased weight, girth and susceptibility to diseases seems quite the norm. This is far from normal and should not be acceptable.

Take a stand, your health and wellness is important. You can make a change, at any age. Introducing fitness creates so much positive energy that it seeps into every other aspect of your life. Set aside at least an hour, even half an hour a day exclusively for yourself. Start small and grow within yourself, improving your health both physical and emotional.

You will find that once you start exercising, you are in a better mood, able to deal with the mundane day-to-day activities or a stressful career without feeling overwhelmed or stressed more than necessary. It is all about ‘quality of life’ not just increased longevity.

The writer is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant NAFC, Director–TFL Fitness Studio, Chennai. E-mail>drsheela@tfl-inc.com , >admin@tfl-inc.com

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